“It’s unfair that people coming from European countries can access free NHS care without paying in, while others make significant contributions”

Michael Gove, quoted in The Mail on Sunday

November 17, 2019

Claim

Michael Gove’s quote continued: “Making access to the NHS fairer is part of making migration fairer overall… it’s not right that people from Bulgaria and Slovenia can come here without any controls and have automatic rights that people from Bangladesh and Singapore do not.”

His cabinet colleague Matt Hancock added to the point when, on Twitter, he said: “Everyone should make a fair contribution towards our NHS - so after Brexit we’ll extend the NHS surcharge to all non-UK residents.”

Facts 

EU citizens do not pay less towards the NHS than other visitors or immigrants to Britain. They pay more. They also pay more than the average Briton. 

The Migration Advisory Committee, the government’s independent consultant, estimated in September 2018 that, over their lifetime, migrants from the European Economic Area would pay an average of £78,000 more to the UK exchequer — and thus to the NHS — than people born in Britain. It also found that “EEA migrants contribute much more to the health service and the provision of social care in financial resources and through work than they consume in services.”

Oxford Economics said that “the average UK-based migrant from Europe contributed approximately £2,300 more to UK public finances in 2016/17 than the average UK adult. In comparison, each UK-born adult contributed £70 less than the average, and each non-European migrant contributed over £800 less than the average… Their (EU citizens’) net contribution was £4.7 billion in 2016/2017.”  

Hancock’s assertion that “after Brexit, we’ll extend the NHS surcharge to all non-UK residents” is muddled and wrong. The surcharge only applies to UK residents, not to foreign visitors, and the Tories have not announced a plan to extend it to visitors.

Visitors to Britain who hold a European Health Insurance Card get free health treatment, as long as their need for it was unexpected, or “unplanned” — just as all Britons do in other EU countries. The NHS can claim the cost of treatment back from the visitor’s government. Non-EU citizens residing in Britain already pay the surcharge.  

The Tories’ proposed change would therefore only apply to EU citizens who come to reside/live in the UK.

Verdict

Hancock and Gove seem not to understand the difference between UK residents and visitors, or else they deliberately muddle the two to mislead the public.  

Gove was quite wrong to claim that “people coming from European countries... can access free NHS care without paying in while others make significant contributions.” 

As shown above, EU migrants to the UK contribute more to the budget of the NHS than the average UK citizen, and far more than they take out.  

Misleading the public on the emotive topic of immigration is scurrilous. Stoking a common misconception that British citizens pay for the health care of EU migrants is the kind of deception that far-right parties stoop to.

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